White House unveils plan to fight hackers

The White House issued a sweeping new plan aimed at better defending the government’s networks from the hackers that have infiltrated numerous agencies in the last year.

The plan follows up on a 30-day “cyber sprint” the Obama administration ordered earlier this year in the wake of the mammoth hacks on the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which exposed over 20 million federal workers’ personal information.

{mosads}While the sprint aimed to quickly patch the most glaring vulnerabilities on the government’s networks, this new plan will try to set out a longer-term strategy to bolster cyber defenses.

The administration will issue a new protocol for responding to cyberattacks, the Department of Homeland Security will speed the rollout of its intrusion detection system and agencies will have to take stock of their cyber workforce and file reports on their findings.

“Cyber threats cannot be eliminated entirely, but they can be managed much more effectively,” said Federal Chief Information Officer Tony Scott in a late Friday blog post.

The new plan, known as the Cybersecurity Strategy and Implementation Plan (CISP) “helps get our current federal house in order, but it does not re-architect the house,” he added.

In the last year, hackers have cracked numerous high-profile government agencies, making off with everything from U.S. weather data to the president’s private schedule and potentially the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s unclassfied emails.

But it was the devastating hacks at the OPM that spurred the recent cybersecurity push.

During the 30-day cyber sprint, agencies were directed to patch critical vulnerabilities, restrict the number of people with access to privileged data, quicken the adoption of multi-factor authentication and scan systems for malicious activity.

At the end of the month-long effort, the White House touted some initial successes.

Across the board, the government increased its use of multi-factor authentication from 42 percent to 72 percent. It requires those accessing networks to employ a secondary form of identification in addition to the traditional login credentials.

The DHS also scanned over 40,000 systems, identifying and patching numerous defects.

“While these statistics demonstrate marked improvement in identifying and closing the gaps in the federal cyber infrastructure, we still have more work to do,” Scott said in his blog post. “We must continue to double down on this administration’s broad strategy to enhance federal cybersecurity and fundamentally overhaul information security practices, policies and governance.”

CISP is a critical part of this effort. It sets up a number of deadlines over the coming year.

By the end of next September, the government hopes to have new strategies for implementing cybersecurity tools, updated plans for responding to digital intrusions and a better understanding of the shortcomings in the federal cyber workforce.

The director of national intelligence will also assess what government data foreign cyber spies are most likely to go after. It’s believed that Chinese spies were behind the intrusions at the OPM, part of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to build a comprehensive database on all federal employees.

“Today, the state of federal cybersecurity is stronger than ever before,” Scott said. However, there are no one-shot silver bullets.”


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